Light and tasty turkey mince spaghetti

17 04 2013


If like me you’ve found Easter to be as gluttonous as Christmas, then you are probably looking to have a frugal few weeks to fight back the flab. If you are virtuous enough and have enough self control, you just might be able to make those Easter eggs last a few weeks. For me however, they need to be out of the house and there’s only one way that is going to happen – I am going to pig out on them until they are gone!

It didn’t help that I have just spent the week with the in-laws and gorged myself at family meals, not least on my mother in law’s fabulous Simnel cake. Due to an unfortunate turn of climatic events in the British Isles, one of the two Simnel cakes she cooked didn’t make their intended destination and found their way day down my gullet instead!

So I am 3 or 4 pounds in arrears and I need some good healthy food to set me back on track. A healthy pasta dish gives you all the hugs you need from a warm comforting bowl of food without the calories or fat (as long as you watch that portion size). This Bolognaise or ragu uses turkey mince rather than beef which is low in fat and helps keep your red meat intake down (see previous post). I tend to use leg mince as although the breast mince is virtually fat free it can be a bit dry. I also cram a few extra veggies in that the kids wont notice. It makes for quite a sweet sauce as a result.

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Asparagus and onion frittata

26 03 2013


Eggs as it happens are a dieter’s friend, which is good because we need all the help we can get. There are roughly 70 calories in a large egg and 7g of fat. Most importantly, they are a good source of omega 3 and protein.

The other day I was longing for something summery despite the weather and fancied a rare day off meat. This frittata fitted the bill perfectly and is as close to a quiche as I am going to get on my diet! The recipe is dead easy to prepare and cook and just as easy to adapt to whatever veg, cheese and meat you may have knocking about.

The basic principal is steam or par-boil any veg in advance as it won’t cook much in the egg mixture, use a non stick pan or wok that is deep enough to create an omelette will cover all the veggies and finish of under the grill.

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Coconut Chicken Curry with a Choice of Veggies

17 03 2013

Coconut chicken curry

I love curry. In fact if I was forced to only eat one type of food for the rest of my life, I would choose curry. I don’t mind if it’s from the Indian subcontinent or South-East Asia. I don’t mind whether it is meat or vegetable, lentil or coconut, dry or wet. It can be fragrant or rich, it can be downright spicy and blow your head off. I don’t care, curry is the food for me!

All of which makes it a bit difficult to continue my love of curry whilst dieting. The average Indian-style curry from a restaurant or take-away, including starters, rice, bread and the obligatory bottle of two of Cobra beer, can completely blow your diet out of the water. You can be talking in excess of 2000 calories for a night out at a curry house – the curries are often swimming in oil/ghee and all those extra calories from poppadoms and yoghurt really add up.

With a home-cooked curry, you get to control the amount of oil you put in and of course, you can control portion size. Even though this curry has coconut milk in it, I’m using half-fat and divided between 4 portions, for example, would only be 7g of fat per person. (If you want a virtually fat-free curry, replace coconut milk for stock and use lean chicken breast meat).

I have cooked loads of different curries over the years and this one is my own recipe which draws inspiration from some of my favourite cooks – Atul Kochar, Madhur Jaffrey and steals a good thickening idea from the Hairy Bikers. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients, the process is very simple, especially if you have a food processor. The spices listed are all curry essentials and you can use them over again in a wide range of curry recipes.

This recipe uses a combination of Indian and Thai cooking techniques, so we’ve got a curry paste, fish sauce and coconut milk, with typically Indian spicing. It’s also a very versatile curry and could be made with fish, prawns or lentils. There’s some alternatives at the end of the recipe.

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Processed meat gives you cancer, but then so does everything else…

13 03 2013

Full English Breakfast

As a writer of a health blog, last week’s main health story really caught my attention. In case you missed it (and it may have just only been news in the UK) here is it in all its glory:
Processed meat ‘early death’ link

 To summarise – eating too much processed meat has been linked to early death rates and overconsumption of red meat (fresh or processed) is thought to increase the risks of contracting bowel cancer or cardiovascular/heart disease. It’s a complicated set of results that is a statistical analysis of a huge data set over a long period of time. It is important to note that it is not a medical analysis in that the actual link between the chemical make-up of processed meat and the body’s reaction to it, has not been found. It is thought that the salt and preservatives used in processed meat is the likely culprit.

There’s also a really nice commentary by one of my favourite bloggers here:

In fact, I was going to reply to Kellie on her blog, but thought it was actually rather impolite to hijack her blog with my opinions (not that they differ much).

I should say at this point that this isn’t even new news as such:

As a parent and as an adult trying to live a healthier lifestyle, this story, whilst not a complete bolt out of the blue, is fairly shocking, not least of all because I am pretty sure that I, and possibly my children too, consume more than the recommended amount of processed or red meat some weeks. Certainly in the past, I know I have – I’ve had a ham sandwich every day at work some weeks and then tucked into a large plate of Chilli on an evening.

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Piri Piri Mackerel – A little bit of sunshine in winter

5 03 2013

piripirisardinesWinter really drags in the UK (and probably elsewhere) – especially post-Christmas. We’ve had a lot of snow and cold weather, but finally there’s glimpses of spring, sunshine even and this recipe just lets you know that there can be a little bit of sunshine in your food too, even when on a diet!

My last recipe was a fish dish and I don’t want to give anyone the impression that all I eat is fish. Far from it, I don’t eat enough, but if you are like me then these last 2 recipes might help you change that.

This recipe is adapted from a Rick Stein one I saw on TV ages ago (picture from Rick’s Book on 100 Fish and Seafood recipes). I looked it up online and managed to find it. The original is for barbecued sardines. If I remember rightly Rick shoved them between 2 slices of bread and ate them bones and all! My version uses mackerel fillets and can be pan fried. You can get fresh mackerel from most supermarkets and of course fish mongers and to my delight the lovely fellow on the counter at my local Tesco filleted them for me for free. They were rather hefty specimens too so one and a half did me and my wife for tea leaving a lovely cold fillet for a kind of Salade Nicoise for lunch later on in the week.

Make this as spicy as you like, mackerel can take it. Add it is an oily fish be careful with amounts of extra oil you use. Use a little good quality extra virgin olive oil and not nearly as much as in the original recipe – this is meant to be a low-cal recipe after all.

Ingredients for 2 servings
2 whole fresh mackerel, filleted
For the piri-piri oil:
1 large fresh red chilli finely chopped with some or all if the seeds depending on how got you like it
1/2 clove garlic finely chopped
1/2 a lemon, zest finely chopped, remainder juice
Sea salt
Extra Virgin Olive oil (a splash)
For the salad:
1-2 large vine ripened tomatoes, sliced
1/2 (red) onion very finely sliced
1 chargrilled and skinned red pepper (lightly pickled in a jar will do fine)
Red wine or balsamic vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil (a glug)


1. In a pestle and mortar (or food processor), bash the garlic, chilli, salt and lemon zest together to a pulp. Squeeze in the lemon juice and a splash of oil. Grind the mixture around until it turns red. Pass through a sieve, pressing to get all the flavour out. We’re just trying to achieve smooth marinade here without bits of lemon zest or chilli skin/seeds. Rub this all over the mackerel and leave to marinade for 10-60 minutes. If it doesn’t look like there is enough, add a bit of water.

2. Make the salad by slicing all the ingredients and drizzling with a little oil and vinegar. Season well with salt and pepper. Leave for the flavours to infuse whilst you cook the fish.

3. Put a non-stock frying pan over a high heat and put a drop of light olive or sunflower oil in (just enough to lightly coat the bottom of the pan). Put the mackerel in skin side down. Turn down the heat a touch and fry for about 3-5 minutes until the skin is crispy and the edges just look like they ate starting to cook through. Turn the fish over and turn the heat off and leave for a couple more minutes. The residual heat should be enough to complete the cooking without over cooking.

4. Serve with the salad, some boiled new potatoes and green beans. Save some salad and veg for a lunchtime salad with any leftover fish (if there is any!)

A note on mackerel

Recently, the UK Marine Conservation Society decreed that mackerel was no longer a sustainable fish and we should start eating sardines or herring instead. I don’t know if this is true, but this dish was originally for sardines, and if you can be bothered with the fiddly bones, they are a beautiful fish, perhaps slightly tastier than mackerel. You decide.

‘Asian-style’ Fish with Wild Vegetable Rice

20 02 2013

Asian style trout with wild vegetable riceThis week I am on my own in the house. My wife and the kids have gone to see their grandparents for half term but I have to work. Food and cooking for me when I am on my own can go one of two ways – takeaways and ready-meals or cooking for myself. For anyone who regularly cooks for one (I have a good friend who springs to mind) the temptation must be to buy ready prepared food. A lot of fresh food is packaged for families and actually cooking a single portion of anything can be tricky. The weekend started badly with a lads day and night of football, curry and beer. I did my best to walk off my hangover on Sunday and then on Monday I did my shop for the week. When I am shopping for myself, I am quite impulsive and always buy something that I don’t have often, usually because my family don’t like it. I also take the opportunity to trial some ‘value’ lines as I do love a bargain.

Taking my fancy in my local Tesco were some Tesco Everyday Value Rainbow Trout fillets. I don’t nearly enough fish and nowhere near enough oily fish, so I thought this would be a good time to trial a new recipe. I was also astounded by the price – £1.98. This is farmed trout. I’m not sure how I feel about farmed fish – chefs on TV will tell you look for wild fish for the best taste and texture, but farming strikes me as a good solution to fish sustainability (although I am sure the issue is somewhat more complicated than that). In any case, the fish was snapped up and a few days later I got around to cooking it (I know, fish should be eaten as fresh as possible!).

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Muesli, Fat-Free Yoghurt, Sugar and a Rant…

14 02 2013

Firstly, apologies… This post was meant to be a weekly menu to give an example of how to eat less than 2000 calories a day and still enjoy real food. That post, will come, but you see I got stuck right at the very beginning – breakfast and then went on a rant…


Jordan's Natural MuesliI am so boring because I have the same breakfast everyday – muesli and low-fat yoghurt. Pre-diet, I used to alternate this with 2 slices of toast with butter and marmalade but this has now gone right out of the window. You need to be careful with muesli and granola type cereals because they often have added sugar and some are very calorific indeed. I stick to a no-added sugar, wholewheat, fruit and nut muesli, but I always check it comes in at around 350 KCals per 100g or less (you would not believe how high some go).

I have cut down my portion size a lot, but even on this diet I cannot eat a little as the so-called ‘portion size’ on most muesli packets of 45g. I started weighing out 80g of muesli each morning and then found a small bowl which wouldn’t hold any more than that. Now I just tip it straight into the bowl. Even so, that is a fairly substantial amount of calories (260 KCals), but I think of this as ‘good’ calories – slow energy release and plenty of good vitamins and essential micro-nutrients in the nuts and dried fruit.

But I ask myself – why should I have to search out no-added sugar muesli. Surely this is the breakfast choice of the health conscious? Surely we would want it sugar free in the first place. On the shelf in the supermarket for muesli, there are only about 3 or 4 no-added sugar variants in a range of 30 or more products.

Dorset Cereals Berries and Cherries Muesli

Back to that portion size. The reason the manufacturers reckon that 40-50g is a decent portion of muesli is so that they can put on their packaging “only 140 Calories per portion” when they know that the average eater will consume twice or three times that amount at each sitting. Have a look at this beautifully tasty cereal –  looks healthy doesn’t it? Well this little beauty contains nearly 40% sugar!


I eat yoghurt because I have not drunk milk since I was about 5. I think it was warm, primary school milk (before Magggie Thatcher banned it) that put me off for life. Now I am all grown up, I can tolerate milk and cream in cooked food, but I cannot stomach raw milk or cream. Luckily I can make up for my lack of Calcium by having yoghurt every morning and milk in my coffee. Yoghurt is a tricky one for dieters though as manufacturers are very sneaky. Fat-free yoghurt appears to be too good to be true, and of course it is. Look carefully at the nutrition information on fat-free or low-fat natural yoghurt and you might be surprised to see as much as 8.5g of sugar in every 100g (that’s 8.5%  duh).

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Get the most out of a chicken (Part 2)

10 02 2013

In part 1, I discussed how to joint a chicken and roast the crown and make gravy. Now in Part 2, I will show you how I use up the remaining chicken to make a healthy chicken casserole and stock for a soup.

4. Skin and bone the remaining chicken

Although this seems like a lot of effort, there is a lot of fat in and just under the skin of the chicken, and of course, plenty of flavour in those bones. It might take you a while the first few times you do this, but you can soon get it down to a fine art. If I am not in a rush, I actually find butchery quite therapeutic! If I was barbecuing the chicken, then I’d probably leave all this, but since it’s months before it’ll be barbecue weather in the UK, what I want is a warming and filling casserole that won’t blow the daily calorie budget.

Back to the recipe. You will need a sharp knife, a large pan for the bones and and bin bag for the skin. Remember, what we have left – 2 legs, 2 wings and the carcass from underneath the crown. Get the carcass out of the way first. Pull off all the skin. Use a small sharp knife to cut off any large bits of fat. Break the carcass in half using your hands and add it to your stock pot.

Pulling the skin off the legs is fairly easy. Chop the end of the leg of first at the ankle joint (see video) and discard. Start at the top of the thigh, get your fingers under the skin and pull it away from the meat, then gripping it tightly, pull it all the way down the leg and off the bottom. You’ll see bits of fat remaining on the leg, so cut these off too. Now, feel for the knee joint and break it using your hands and then cut the thigh from the drumstick using a knife.

Removing the bones is fairly tricky, but you don’t have to do it with butcher like skill, just get it out as cleanly as possible. Run your knife along the thigh bone, then cut around the joint at one end and separate. Keep running the knife around the bone and turn the thigh on it’s end. You can almost ‘push’ the meat of the bone with knife, keeping it as close to the bone as possible. Then cut around the joint at the other end and chuck the bone in the stock pot.

It’s a similar process for the drumstick, but just be careful – there is a hard tendon right under the bone which needs removing too. There are other tendons in the drumstick, but they should be okay left in and soften up when cooked.

I wouldn’t recommend boning the wings – there’ll hardly be any meat left if you try! Cut off and discard the wingtip – like the end of the legs, it’s mostly fat and gristle. Pull off as much skin as you can and then use your knife to remove any remaining fat and skin. This is what you should be left with:

Chicken skinned and boned

5. Moroccan Style Chicken Casserole with couscous

This recipe is somewhat adapted from Keith Floyd’s recipe “Floyd’s Cous Cous” from his book Flash Floyd. This is a lovely, lightly flavoured casserole which is very versatile and each to alter depending upon what veg you have in. This will serve 3-4 adults or 2 adults and 2 children.

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Get the most out of a chicken (Part 1)

4 02 2013

Meat is increasingly expensive in the UK and if you have a conscience, buying meat that has been sourced from ethically nurtured animals, is even more so. In my household we consume a lot of chicken. It can be low in fat and relatively inexpensive (compared to Beef and Lamb). Luckily it is very versatile and lends itself to all sorts of cuisines and types of cooking.

Most people are now aware of the ways in which chickens are reared for meat, thanks to high profile campaigns from the likes of celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Luckily, Free Range chicken has come down in price and is easier to get hold of, and ‘Freedom Food‘ chicken allows for a bit of common ground. That is if you are buying a whole bird. Ready-prepared Free Range chicken breasts are ridiculously expensive and in many supermarkets, Free Range chicken thighs or legs are not available. You can also be sure that just about every other bit of chicken in ready-meals, nuggets, kievs etc is battery farmed and often not even British.

This post is not meant to be a political commentary on the plight of the battery chicken, but, if you want to go the Free Range or Freedom route, then my advice is: buy a whole bird and use it all. Here are my tips on how to get all this from 1 bird costing around £5 (assuming that the adults are on a less than 2000 calorie diet):

Freedom Food Chicken

  • A Sunday roast for 2 adults and 2 young children
  • Chicken gravy
  • Leftover chicken for sandwiches
  • Chicken casserole
  • Chicken stock

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Taking Stock

2 02 2013

Soups, stews and casseroles packed with veggies are one of the best things you can make on a diet. They fill you up, can be made very low-fat and give a nice warming feeling especially on a winter’s night.

I have one problem though – stock! I usually use stock cubes or more recently, stock pots to add flavour and depth to anything from soup to chilli con carne. But, the other day I started looking at the ingredients and I was shocked.

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